Christmas this year has provoked the usual attacks from militant secularists intent on banning public recognition of Christ’s birth. But arguments over holiday trees and nativity scenes are only a small part of what constitutes one of the deepest divides in American life: between shallow spirituality and authentic conviction. There is nothing that offends many atheists and secularists more than deeply held Christian belief.
Consider Tim Tebow. The Denver Broncos quarterback is one of the most controversial players ever to play in the National Football League. That’s strange given the long list of felons and self-promoters who have played in the league.
Tebow’s all-American boy charm and unorthodox quarterbacking style, not to mention his recent string of improbable victories, have fed the controversy. But there wouldn’t be a controversy at all if not for Tebow’s authentic, cheerful and unapologetic Christian belief.
What roils so many elites is not just that Tebow talks about God, or that he sometimes kneels on the field to say a quick prayer. Plenty of players praise God in various ways when they score a touchdown, win a game or talk about their performances.
What elicits so many strong emotions from supporters and “haters” alike is that Tebow seems to deeply believe in the faith he professes. Tebow’s sincere belief—and the humility, sexual chastity and joyfulness that are among its fruits—baffles many in an increasingly secular and cynical world.
In this way, Tebow Derangement Syndrome is similar to Bush Derangement Syndrome. George W. Bush’s deep Christians faith was offensive to many secularists and elites. He was mocked for praying before big decisions and for pointing to the Bible as the inspiration for some of his policies.
Why is it that President Obama, who invokes his religious belief at least as much as Bush ever did, escapes similar ridicule? Part of it is that Obama’s faith leads him to support a Big Government agenda. But I suspect another reason is that, unlike Obama, who ridiculed Americans who “cling” to religion, Bush appeared to have a level of belief that many simply found incomprehensible.
The contempt of many media and political elites toward deep religious conviction helps explain their refusal to acknowledge or address the persecution of Christians abroad. They seem bewildered by the idea that people can believe so deeply that they would rather die as martyrs for their faith and homeland than renounce it or move away, as so many Christians in the Middle East are forced to do.
These are the ivory-tower perchers who seem unwilling to recognize the faith-based motivations behind Islamic terrorism. They’d sooner blame Israel or poverty or George W. Bush than accept the fact that many Islamic terrorists are incited to commit deadly acts by their deep faith, in a twisted interpretation of Islam.
America is still a broadly religious nation. But the faith of many Americans is not as deeply rooted as it once was. A 2009 Pew study found that while religion remains a strong force in America, about half of Americans change religious affiliations during their lifetimes.
Another poll found that a majority of American Christians do not believe in the existence of Satan or the Holy Spirit. Both are fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Another Pew poll found that 15% of Americans who say they don’t believe in God also inexplicably call themselves Christians.
We live at a time in which religious certitude is neither encouraged nor respected in the popular culture. In a recent column, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that the central Christian tenet of the virgin birth is proof that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.”
Record numbers of Americans have lost trust in some of our most basic and important institutions, from the media to the federal government. Numerous studies show that fewer Americans attend church, and that a growing share of those who do are older.
The most recent Gallup poll finds that only 17% of Americans were satisfied with the way things went in the U.S. in 2011, the second-lowest annual average ever. In an age defined by cynicism and distrust, many people find it jarring to see a sports star or a President who exudes a hope and optimism rooted in something more than empty platitudes. It is inexplicable to them when they encounter men at the top of the world who profess such a strong conviction in He who created it.